A wave of interest about where we came from recently sprang up. It’s only natural, since the evolutionary story presented to us since childhood doesn’t answer how we fit into our convoluted world.
In Paul Gaugin’s self-proclaimed finest painting, “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”, he answers the title’s questions by portraying man’s life from birth to death. Yet this leaves the spiritual components of existence unanswered.
That’s why we must also ask the same questions—just as many have before us—with the added advantage of looking to the Bible for our answers.
1. Where Do We Come From?
While Genesis 1-3 explains our value as God’s image-bearers and our nature as sinners, Genesis 10 gives us the table of nations, a chart that delineates the history of Noah’s three sons. But why should Japheth, Ham, and Shem influence what we think of our origins?
Perhaps because we know that he’s the father of the Indo-European people, who at the time made up 14 nations, thus making a large contribution to answering our question.
We also know that some of his most notable descendants were Gomer, Magog, Meshech, and Togarmah, all of whom God promised to punish one day for rising up against Israel (Ezek. 38:1-10, 18, 23; Ezek. 39:1-6; Rev. 20:7-8). To be fair to the Japhethites, Revelation prophesies that all the world will one day rise up against Israel and be severely punished for it.
But all this is even more interesting when one considers just how much the Japhethites would change over the years, becoming the proponents of more peaceful, more civilized beliefs such freedom of speech, religion, and the press. Even now, several decades after the sons of Japheth have abandoned Christianity, they’ve held onto some of its more prominent pillars, like the sanctity of life, individual justice (instead of dying for a parent’s sins), and placing the responsibility of doing right and choosing (or rejecting) Christ on each person’s own shoulders.
No wonder the West has regarded Jesus’ birth as the dividing line of history. He certainly changed the history of the West, even if the Japhethites–like all other people groups–continued to sin at various points in their history.
But here’s what we can learn about ourselves from Japheth: we all have horrors in our lineage tree, horrors that we can nevertheless rise above. Nowadays, the media is telling us we should pay for reparations, as if dead generations before us make us guilty of slavery. Have we forgotten that we’re not our parents?
They also forget the lesson that Japheth taught us: Tarshish who spread its terror in the land of the living (Ezek. 32:26-27) came from Japheth. But so did the Medo-Persians who showed astounding religious tolerance for everyone, including the Jews (2 Chron. 36:22-23). And though Hitler came from Japheth, so did Winston Churchill. Russia, too, came from Japheth. But so did England and America.
Everyone today has a mixed baggage for a lineage. Some had both slave owners and freedom fighters in their family tree. To blame anyone for what their ancestors did is as absurd as blaming King Cyrus for Tarshish or Churchill for Hitler.
Ham, whose 30 descendants became the thirty nations that settled in the Middle East and Africa, also shows us the same lesson. After all, though Israel laid waste to some of the Hamites as a part of God’s divine judgment, they spared Rahab when she showed faith in Yaweh (Jos. 2). The Nineveh of Jonah’s day was also spared when they repented, proving to us that God is happy to save anyone who calls on him, even if the converts come from a wicked land doomed to destruction (Jonah 3:4-10, 4:10-11).
And the same people who did great things for God can have evil descendants who do the opposite.
Ironically, the same Hammite nations of Sidon and Tyre brought cedar wood to Israel to help with the building of God’s temple (1 Chron. 22:4) during David and Solomon’s reigns as part of their alliance with Israel were the same two nations that turned corrupt and spread its terror in the land of the living, so God promised he’d one day bring them “down with the slain” (Ezek. 32:30).
And Shem, who had 26 descendants that became 26 nations, gave rise to Israel and many other Semitic (SHEMitic) groups that would wage war against Israel, including the Assyrians, Syrians, and Amalekites.
Just by studying God’s record of our origins, we can understand that our origins aren’t
who we are. However interesting our pasts are, we can neither take credit nor get implicated for what our forefathers did. The past is there to provide us another way to learn about actions and their consequences.
2. What are we?
Since we all have good and evil in our lineages, we must conclude that what we are is independent agents responsible for our own choices.
But there’s another important lesson about who we are hidden within the table of nations.
Consider the rich Japhethite nations of Javan, Meshech, Tubal, Tarshish, Elishash, and Kittim (Ezek. 27:7, 12-14, 19, 25). And before Tarshish turned bad, King Solomon—only the richest king in Israel’s history—got his gold from there (2 Chron. 9:20-21). But when God cursed its trading partner Tyre for its wickedness (Isa. 23:1, 6), they also suffered.
From Ham’s line came Zidon, who begat rich merchants and mariners (Isa. 23:2-4, 12; Ezek. 27:8), and Dedan, who begat wealthy merchants of ivory and ebony and creators of precious chariot clothes (Ezek. 27:15, 20; Jer. 49:8; Ezek. 25:13), but both were promised divine punishment.
And great warriors came from the Shemmite nations of Asshur (Num. 24:21-24) and Lud (Ezek. 27:10), but not so great that they couldn’t be destroyed by God’s judgment (Ezek. 27:23).
Therefore, we must conclude that we are capable of great and terrible things, of mighty deeds that uplifts us or failure that sinks us—and at the same time, we’re never a match for God. It’s never a good idea to give into our rebellious sin nature and try to fight His will and His way. Even the most powerful among us must face up to the limits of our humanity.
3. Where are we going?
Israel has always had trouble answering that question. Joshua answered it quickly for him and his family:
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15b).
That generation of Israelites agreed with him, but the question wouldn’t be answered in the same way forever. As the Bible tells us, “there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim” (Judg. 2:10b-11), who was the same type of god who required the child sacrifices that God had kicked out the Canaanites for.
And though all of our ancestors, whether wise or foolish, eventually headed to the grave, they didn’t all accomplish the same things in the spiritual realm by the time they’d parted from this earth.
We must all individually ask ourselves the question of where we’re going. Some of you have already trusted in Christ as Savior, and are happy to know that you’re going to Heaven when you die. I am as happy as you. But even having Heaven secured, we’re all going to the grave. The question is what are we doing as we’re going to the grave.
Did you know that the world is still asking these questions? It seems that the purely scientific answers that Gaugin and his contemporaries have provided doesn’t satisfy our souls. Perhaps because the real reason these questions are provocative are because of the implied why. These questions are supposed to guide us to the deeper reason for our existence. And as Christians we know where we came from, what we are, and where we’re going—these answers help us know why we’re here.
If you know, you’ve no excuse to ignore your purpose. Trust me, you’ll be happiest living out your days obeying God’s call for your life. You will always serve either God, who has a constructive purpose for your life, or gods like Self, Entertainment, Vainglory, and Worldly Success who will doubtless promise much but end up destroying your usefulness and clouding your true purpose for being on earth.
Answer the question for yourself: where are you going. As Joshua said to the Israelites (Jos. 24:15), I say to you. Choose.